MIT Professor Says Pentagon Sought to Silence His Criticism of Antimissile Program

MIT Professor Says Pentagon Sought to Silence His Criticism of Antimissile Program


The Chronicle of Higher Education, Tuesday, June 27, 2000




A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has charged that Pentagon officials tried to intimidate him to prevent

him from speaking out against a U.S. missile-defense program.


Theodore A. Postol, a professor of science, technology, and national security policy, said that three agents with the Defense

Security Service arrived unannounced last week at his M.I.T. office. Mr. Postol said they tried to show him classified

documents, but he said he refused to view the papers.


Mr. Postol said that if he had read the agents' classified documents, he would no longer have been able to speak out about the

antimissile system without risking the loss of his security clearance. An occasional consultant to the government on defense

issues, Mr. Postol made headlines last month when, in a letter to the White House, he said that he thought the system would fail, based on the government's own data, and that it could be defeated by a few decoy balloons.


He said that last week's visit was designed to silence him.


"It struck me as a pretty transparent and clumsy attempt at entrapment," Mr. Postol said in an interview.


Caryl L. Clubb, a spokeswoman for the Defense Security Service, said agents didn't try to intimidate Mr. Postol. While the

M.I.T. professor said that the visit was unannounced, she said that agents had made several unsuccessful attempts to contact

Mr. Postol.


Arthur L. Money, assistant secretary of defense, wrote a letter to Mr. Postol last week saying that the visit was merely intended to verify whether the professor had used possibly classified information to prepare his memo to the White House on the missile system. Mr. Money wrote that he regretted "any misunderstanding about the purpose of this visit" and stated that Mr. Postol was not under investigation.


Mr. Postol said that he spoke with Mr. Money on Monday, and that he wasn't satisfied with the defense administrator's

explanation. He said his letter to the White House was based on declassified documents made public in a lawsuit against a

government contractor.


Rep. Edward J. Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, told The Boston Globe that he wanted the General Accounting

Office to investigate the Pentagon agents' "Kafkaesque" visit with Mr. Postol.


In the Globe article, Representative Markey criticized the agents for "showing up at the author's office, trying to force him to

read a classified document that he doesn't want to read."


Mr. Postol said the incident recalled earlier tensions between academic scientists and the government in the 1980's, when the

Pentagon was accused of discouraging researchers and analysts from criticizing the "Star Wars" missile defense plan promoted

by President Ronald Reagan. He also said that agents from the Defense Security System visited his office several years ago in

an effort to intimidate him when he outlined problems with the Patriot missile after the 1991 Gulf War.


Nonetheless, Mr. Postol said he would continue to speak out against the antimissile plan. "My main interest is the security of the country," he said. "This is too important a matter to allow some thugs in a bureaucracy to intimidate me."




Copyright 2000 by The Chronicle of Higher Education